In Aritstotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, he describes frienship as being divided in to three different types: friendship of utility, friendship of pleasure, and friendship of character, or what Aristotle calls “complete friendship.” According to Aristotle, a friendship of utility is a friendship of “Those who love each other for utility love the other not in his own right, but insofar as they gain some good for themselves from him” (Aristotle, 121). In other words, a friendship of utility is a frienship in which one person is friends with another because that friendship is useful in some ways to them, which could be something like a loose friendly relationship with a business partner (hence the term “utility”). A friendship of pleasure is a relationship where one person “like[s] a witty person not because of his character, but because he is pleasant to them” (Aristotle, 122). For example, young people, whom Aristotle states are the people more likely to seek this kind of friendship (Dickman, 3/30/2011) because individuals seek this kind of friendship for a simple kind of companionship; In other words, we make friends with people simply because we like them and enjoy filling our time with people we find pleasant and agreeable. The third and final type of friendship that Aristotle describes is a friendship of character, the rarest and typically longest lasting frienship. This type of friendship is based on a genuine and mutual wish for good for the other person in the friendship, and takes the longest to create. According to Aristotle, “there is nothing absurd in dissolving the friendship whenever they are no longer pleasant or useful” (Aristotle, 140). In essence, Aristotle is stating that where there is no longer utility or mutual surface pleasure in a friendship, there is nothing to keep that relationship together, and therefore breaks. The end of a friendship of character is slightly more complicated, however. A friendship of character ends when “one friend stayed the same and the other became more decent and far excelled his friend in virtue…” (Aristotle, 141), or friends become so different in character they can no longer maintain the relationship, however more value is placed on the previous relationship and therefore “must keep some memory of the familiarity they had” (Aristotle, 141).
The goal of each type of friendship seems related to its purpose for Aristotle. For instance, the purpose of a relationship of utility would be fulfilled once the person in the relationship seeking something from the other person gets what they need or want out of the relationship. The purpose for a friendship of pleasure would simply be the companionship of another person, sharing common interests and working on a basic mutual understanding that each person involved in the relationship are on common ground. As for friendship of character, the purpose of such a relationship would be essentially the same as a friendship of pleasure, with the added aspects of a mutual sense of respect and genuine wish for each other’s well-being. In terms of what type of friendship Aristotle holds as most valuable, he speaks most highly of a friendship of character. For Aristotle, “friendship is said to be equality. And this is true above all in the friendship of good people.” (Aristotle, 123), which can be said most of a friendship of character.
It is no secret to most people that women are different from men; Women are often seen as delicate and emotional, wheras men have often been archetyped as domineering and emotionally detatched. Women, having always had a gender struggle, are generally seen as possessing inferior qualities in comparison to men’s supposedly superior physical and mental attributes. Through the many different aspects of gender attributes, various types of relationships are created between men and women.
The differences between men and women start not only on a physical level, but a social level as well. For women, friendship can be described in terms of “closeness and emotional attachment. What characterizes friendships between women is the willingness to share important feelings, thoughts, experiences, and support.” (Traustadottir). Because of this aspect, women often tend to form extremely close bonds, and often rather quickly. Unfortunately, also because women tend to form closer, emotional bonds so quickly there is more of a likelihood that the relationship will go one of two ways: the bond between friends becomes stronger as time goes on, or becomes strained and, as a result, heated and broken. Where women tend to gain more friends quickly and make close friends, men tend to have far fewer friends, especially those they would call “close” who they would share intimate details and feelings with. Though because men tend to have fewer friends than women, men will have more of a predisposition to catagorize friends like having “‘activity friends,'” such as a weekly tennis partner or drinking buddies; ‘convenience friends’ where the relationship is based on the exchange of favors; and ‘mentor friends’ typically between a younger and an older man” (Traustadottir). Because of these types of categorization of relationships, men would have more relationships and friendships of the utilitarian and pleasure type, leaving women to be more inclined to create friendships of character, though both genders are clearly highly capable do so for all types of friendships.
Other factors of gender relationships also include social behaviors, nonverbal communication, as well as the way we treat relationships as a gender, based on the social norms,expectations and attitudes placed upon them. “Socializing women as reactive and affiliative motivates them to learn nonverbal behavior that enables them to interpret the moods and feelings of others” (Payne, 132). Also according to Payne, women do this through nonverbal cues like standing close to someone, strong eye contact, and vocal warmth, all of which “establish relationships and reduce power threats” (Payne, 132), making women more inviting and their behavior a contradiction to the somewhat abrasive attitudes and behaviors of men. Therefore, in contrast to women, “Socializing men as proactive and dominant motivates them to display communication behavior that empowers them to control interactions” (Payne, 132). In relation, Payne’s observed nonverbal communication for men include an unresponsiveness to questions and a dismissal of ideas from those they deem subordinates, all of which are an attempt to establish dominance, behavior highly different from that of women and their need to establish a sense of calm and comfort among their peers. Gender behavior also ties greatly into the way we view relationships. ““We view communication in relationships as either intrumental or relational. Males stereotypically use an instrumental communication and females stereotypically use a relational model” (Payne, 77). Males of course more than likely use their intrumental communication to assist in their attempts to establish dominance or to distance themselves from other men because of their reasons for creating barriers which include a sense of competition or a competitive nature, stereotypes of what “real men” do, as well as an apprehension of being seen as homosexual ( Traustadottir). Of course, gender views of relationships also have alot to do with the way we regard them. “Power acts as the capacity to get things done; love means caring for others. People who can integrate and balance the two can attain the highest degree of personal development” (Payne, 78), and of course there are people of both genders that can reach this kind of personal development, though men tend to focus their attention and efforts on acquiring power of some kind, wheras women tend focus on the love aspect of thier relationships, which can create a large gap in the way each gender views a relationship with one another.
Finally, the way both men and women sparately view sex and marriage plays a large role in how they view relationships with one another. Also in relation to power and love, marriage has a tendency to combine these two factors to create a more complex facet of relationship views. Historically and stereotypically men have power and women have love and these roles are further cemented in a Christian-Judaic view of marriage (Payne, 78). The difference in love and power are also still in more modern society expressing a different view. Women, in the traditional and even in a modern sense, experience double the pressure when integrating home life (taking care of the kids, house chores) and outside work, whereas men face mostly just the pressure of their occupations, which creates a “gender role conflict” (Payne, 83). Sex is also of course a big issue between genders both separately and in conjunction with marriage, though it seems to be bigger issue in general between men and women. Women more traditionally see sex as something more of a romantic act, shared between two individuals who share strong feelings for one another. Men, in stark contrast see sex and things sex related as an intrumental tool of power and status, and less as an act of romance and intimacy, though there are some instances of this not being the case.
So is it really possible for men and women to carry on a friendship? I think it would all depend on the people that are entering into that relationship. Of course, in many male-female relationships there is a tendency to lean into romantic involvement. However, many relationships of these types have started out with a basis of friendship of some kind, be it utilitarian, pleasure, or character. After all, men have many qualities that women lack, and the vice versa would also be true of women. I think whether or not the friendship would work would all depend on the balance of the qualities that either gender would find in one another, as well as a basic understanding of equality and a sense of mutual respect.
Dickman, Nathan. “Virtue Ethics: Aristotle on Frienship” Introduction to Ethics. Young Harris College, GA. 30 March 2011.